Anti-globalization and Zapatismo: two sources of inspiration for new citizen struggles


What examples of progressive struggles can still nourish the imagination? Let us try to identify the specificity of two sources of inspiration: the alter-globalization and universal path on the one hand; the Zapatista and local way on the other hand.

analysis_l_altermondialisme_et_le_zapatitisme_710x280_credits_manuel_lombard.jpg Various movements opposing transatlantic trade agreements punctuated the year 2016 with actions, sometimes spectacular, bringing together people from all sides. Through the latest study 2016 of the Justice and Peace Commission, we showed that farmers, students, SME owners, NGOs and trade union organizations, among others, stood up to the dangers posed by TTIP and CETA on democracy, social rights, the environment and the local economy. At a time when the European Parliament has just approved CETA, on February 13, what follow-up should be given to this movement which has been able to unite through large coalitions and great creativity? We are convinced that from this breeding ground of shared experiences must be able to germinate a struggle for one or more alternative social projects to neoliberal policies. It is important to associate a discourse of protest against these treaties with the affirmation or realization of positive projects. If most people no longer believe in the illusion of a great revolutionary evening that would turn the world upside down, what progressive and realistic perspectives can still nourish our imagination and guide us? In light of what we learn from examples of contemporary struggles over the last 25 years, two sources of inspiration with different approaches are available to citizens: the anti-globalization, universal and centripetal path on the one hand; the Zapatista way, local and centrifugal on the other hand. Let us try to understand the specificity of these approaches. The centripetal force The alter-globalization movement born in the 90s aims to put pressure on political leaders on a national and international scale for another globalization through the establishment of a political framework which constrains private actors such as companies transnational companies to respect social, health and environmental standards. This course of action has in the past resulted in major demonstrations, blocking of international political summits or the establishment of major global forums. It is a movement uniting resistance forces which often models the organization of its actions on national and international political agendas. If we follow this path, why not imagine, within the framework of the fight against new generation trade agreements, such as TTIP and CETA, a broad convergence of struggles in favor ofan international treaty binding which would oversee all bilateral treaties in force and which would oblige transnational companies to respect human rights and the environment? The Namur Declaration launched by Walloon Minister-President Paul Magnette on December 5, 2016 goes in this direction [1]The Namur Declaration launched at the initiative of Paul Magnette, President of the Walloon Parliament, was signed in 2016 by renowned intellectuals such as the philosophers Philippe Van Parijs, … Continue reading. These upward action initiatives are essential because political power is the only one that can give a global orientation to a societal project. However, the running out of steam that threatens human rights organizations and the alter-globalization movement, as well as the episodic nature of actions, due to lack of time and resources, invite us to also consider another avenue. Centrifugal force The other path, centrifugal, starts from the bottom and the local level. It consists of following the trail traced by Zapatismo for several years, drawing inspiration from the progressive mutation of this movement. As a reminder, the Zapatistas came to light on January 1, 1994, rising up against the Mexican government which had just signed NAFTA, a new generation free trade agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico, the The results turned out to be disastrous. Through this rebellion, the indigenous movement from Chiapas, a region in the southeast of Mexico, intended to fight against oppression and neoliberal exploitation by demanding more justice, democracy and freedom. After having tried for years to invest in Mexican national politics without success, notably through armed struggle or the ballot box, this movement reoriented its action by devoting its energy to its zone of influence, Chiapas, through the constitution of forms of autonomous and self-managed social organizations away from central Government. These political innovations developed on the basis of high democratic, social, ecological and cultural requirements have led many people in search of a project of social transformation to be inspired by this movement. The French historian Jérôme Baschet declared that it was “one of the most remarkable concrete utopias that could be observed on a planetary scale.” [2]Jérôme Baschet, Farewell to capitalism. Autonomy, society of good living and multiplicity of worlds, Paris, La Découverte, 2014.". For the Zapatistas, emancipation from all forms of oppression therefore requires autonomy. Concretely, the Zapatista zone of influence is made up of a fragmented territory, roughly the size of Belgium, which is divided into three regions, municipalities and local communities in which political delegates are subject to a system of rotation and revocability which aims to prevent the effects of power capture. Furthermore, many bills are submitted to citizen assemblies with horizontal decision-making methods. It is this system which ensures educational autonomy, health autonomy, and, as far as possible, economic autonomy in relation to the great economic powers. Zapatismo, an open movement! It is common to assert that autonomy is necessarily synonymous with withdrawal, exclusion or total abandonment of a universal perspective. The Zapatista experience shows us the opposite. Indeed, while remaining away from the Mexican central government, the Zapatistas maintain relations with the whole world. The “escuelita”, a small training school, welcomes hundreds of people from the four corners of the globe each year. Furthermore, the Zapatistas are opposed to any form of identity and community domination. “We want to be equal and different” is one of the mottos which, far from presenting itself as a uniform and fixed movement, claims belonging to plural identities by conceiving their territory as a space of openness. According to Bernard Duterme, sociologist and director of CETRI, the Zapatistas bring together multiple affiliations, calling themselves “peasants, Mayans, Chapianeks, but also Mexicans and Citizens of the world.” [3]Bernard Duterme, The Zapatistas, a lasting rebellion, conference at ULB, January 28, 2016. ". Living utopia But how can the Zapatista example inspire other social movements such as the fight against TTIP in Belgium? Autonomous and self-managed projects allow a struggle movement to take root in collective and alternative practices carried out on a daily basis by a network of people who act together for the values in which they believe. The alternatives go beyond the stage of words and intentions to become embodied in the real world, in a place invested in, in relationships that are formed and in projects that are realized. The realistic utopia, as opposed to an abstract idealism, materializes and is visible in the projects carried out. Local experiments with alternative projects, relating to "common action", are even essential preconditions for any movement of struggle which aims to permeate the world in a lasting way... Without this, the ideals would risk remaining pious wishes that do not go beyond the stage of words. Zapatistas in Belgium? Zapatismo is not an exportable movement as it is. The geography as well as the cultural and social history of the communities living in Chiapas give the movement a unique character. Furthermore, the extent of this practical resistance to neoliberal policies has no counterpart in Europe. However, this movement radiates well beyond its borders. In Belgium, groups of activists visible during the actions carried out against TTIP and CETA took their inspiration by evoking the Mexican movement. This is the case of the EZLN which refers to it by name, and other action groups which set up a strictly horizontal mode of organization, in accordance with the democratic demands of Zapatismo. The ADES network, a group of young people very involved in the fight against TTIP, defines itself, like the Mexican movement, as an incubator of alternative projects in order to anchor ideals in alternative practices. BEESCOOP, a cooperative supermarket, illustrates this dynamic. It is certain that this back and forth between local experiments and global struggles has certainly favored the creativity and emulation observed within the framework of the TTIP Game Over dynamic. This is why we cannot think of the struggle independently of alternative field projects undertaken at the local scale. They constitute the most solid sources of inspiration, because they are real, which make it possible to strengthen the support of citizens who carry out these struggles and to convince those who would be skeptical or fearful by the prospect of a radical change of political paradigm. Alternative projects also give hope and energy by showing that change, on a local scale and gradually, is possible. The performative power of ideas, however good they may be, is limited in relation to what can be experienced and lived. To conclude, from a perspective of struggle, the modes of action mentioned come into tension in a certain way, due to the simple fact, among other things, that it is difficult to take action at all levels at the same time. However, it is important to consider the enrichment that these two perspectives bring to each other; autonomous local experiences as sources of inspiration and hope, the constant pressure of civil society on national and international political institutions as conditions of possibility of these realistic utopias. Other movements in Latin America In addition to Zapatismo, other movements in South America demonstrate that neoliberalism is not the insurmountable horizon of our time, by drawing new lines. THE Piqueteros in Argentina or the Movement landless peasants in Brazil are also renewing the political left, whether through their methods of organization, their ways of leading struggles or their defense speeches in favor of the environment and autonomy. Valery Witsel Bibliographic sources
  • Jérôme Baschet, Farewell to capitalism. Autonomy, society of good living and multiplicity of worlds, Paris, La Découverte, 2014.
  • Theotonio Dos Santos, Latin American social movements: from resistance to offensive?, in Left Movements and Powers in Latin America, Study Alternatives Sud, Éditions Syllepse, 2005.
  • Hernán Ouviña, The new political radicalities in Latin America: Zapatistas, piqueteros and landless people, in Left Movements and Powers in Latin America, Study Alternatives Sud, Éditions Syllepse, 2005.
  • Collective work, Men of corn, hearts of embers. Indian cultures in rebellion in Mexico, Montreuil, L'insomniaque, 2002.
  • Valéry Witsel, The new citizen struggles. Put into perspective through the TTIP, Study by the Justice and Peace Commission, 2016.



1 The Namur Declaration launched at the initiative of Paul Magnette, President of the Walloon Parliament, was signed in 2016 by renowned intellectuals such as the philosophers Philippe Van Parijs, Thomas Piketty and Philippe Maystadt.
2 Jérôme Baschet, Farewell to capitalism. Autonomy, society of good living and multiplicity of worlds, Paris, La Découverte, 2014.
3 Bernard Duterme, The Zapatistas, a lasting rebellion, conference at ULB, January 28, 2016.

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